LSU gymnastics team pushes Florida to limit but falls just short, 198.150-197.825 | USL

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Jay Clark gathered his LSU gymnastics team around him Friday night in Gainesville, Fla., and talked to his athletes about how he thinks they should deal with their 198.150-197.825 loss to Florida.

“I told them to be proud of the fight,” Clark said, “to be disappointed but not discouraged. We felt the way we competed was worthy of being able to beat these guys. We know we we’ll see them later.

The Tigers are down to 3-1 and 2-1 in the Southeastern Conference, but likely won’t slide much, if at all, from their No. 5 national ranking. Gymnastic rankings are based on the average of scores, and Friday’s score moved LSU’s average from 197.258 to 197.400.

No. 4 Florida improved to 8-0 and 5-0 and moved within a win of winning the SEC regular-season championship.

LSU forged a 148.350-148.350 tie with Florida before the final rotation after the Gators faltered on the beam – they were forced to count a 9.70 from Trinity Thomas senior – which allowed the Tigers to catch up with their delay. But the Gators clocked a stunning 49.800 on floor while LSU scored 49.475 on beam.

“Good score, good fight, lots of maturity with the way we’ve been doing business,” Clark said. “And yet, we missed opportunities.”

The missed chances on the floor came after freshman KJ Johnson shot a 9.95. LSU’s mighty closing combo of sophomore Haleigh Bryant and junior Kiya Johnson went 9.775 and 9.85, respectively, with Bryant taking a bent knee on his final pass. Kiya Johnson and Bryant scored 10.0 and 9.95 rushing respectively last week in a win over Auburn.

The performance was Bryant’s last of the evening. She was scratched on balance beam due to a flare-up from her partially torn plantar fascia tendon injury in her foot. Junior Kai Rivers replaced Bryant on balance beam and hit the batter with a 9.90.

“Kai was ready,” Clark said. “She nailed it. When you have to do it, you want your kids to take care of it and she did.

As for Bryant, Clark said, “She’ll be fine. It’s a gradual thing. This plantar fascia continues to relax a little more as you go. It started to bother her a bit after the floor, so we scratched her on the beam as a precaution.

Clark said he was unsure, but hopeful, of Bryant’s performance as an all-rounder on Friday at home against Alabama (7:45 p.m., ESPNU). LSU then travels to Missouri on Sunday for a three-team meeting with Missouri and Arkansas as a make-up for its meetings with schools that were previously postponed by COVID-19 concerns.

Before having to retire on the balance beam, Bryant shared first place on the uneven bars with Savannah Schoenherr and Thomas from Florida, all posting 9.95 seconds. Florida’s Kiya Johnson and Leah Clapper also shared the balance beam title with 9.95 seconds.

Bryant also had a 10 on vault against Auburn. This time it was Florida that got a perfect score from Nya Reed on the ground, leading a Gators effort that also included 9.975 from Leanne Wong and Thomas.

Thomas won the vault with another 9.975, while Wong took the all-around title with a 39.650.

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“On paper, this roster is the deepest and most talented in the country,” Clark said of Florida. “It’s a who’s who. And our children have looked them in the eye and know they can go along with them. This is a good thing.”

Another good thing for Clark was the performance of rookie KJ Johnson, who also had a 9.90 on vault.

“I talked about wanting to get her into a comfortable rhythm so her confidence could grow,” he said. “You see his confidence blossom before your eyes. She is getting more and more confident week by week, and over time we will try her on other events as well.

Dating Scores

1. #4 Florida 198.150 (Vault — 49.550, Bars — 49.450, Beam — 49.350, Floor — 49.800)

2. #5 LSU 197.825 (Vault — 49.475, Bars — 49.425, Beam — 49.475, Floor — 49.450)

Individual (includes first place and all LSU competitors)

All around – 1. Leanne Wong, Florida, 39,650; 3. Kiya Johnson, LSU, 39,575.

Skip – 1. Trinity Thomas, Florida, 9.975; 2. Kiya Johnson, LSU, 9.95; T3. KJ Johnson, Haleigh Bryant, LSU, 9.90; T8. Sarah Edwards, LSU, 9.875; 10. Elena Arenas, LSU, 9.85; 11. Kai Rivers, LSU, 9,825.

Bars – T1. Haleigh Bryant, LSU, Savannah Schoenherr, Trinity Thomas, Fla., 9.95; T4. Olivia Dunne, Sami Durante, LSU, 9.90; T6. Alyona Shchennikova, LSU, 9.85; T10. Kiya Johnson, Kai Rivers, LSU, 9.825.

Shine – T1. Kiya Johnson, LSU, Leah Clapper, Florida, 9.95; T4. Kai Rivers, LSU, T6. Christina Desiderio, Bridget Dean, Aleah Finnegan, LSU, 9.875; 12. Sami Durante, LSU, 9.35.

Floor – 1. Nya Reed, Florida, 10.0; T4. KJ Johnson, LSU, 9.95; T6. Aleah Finnegan, Christina Desiderio, LSU, 9.90; T10. Alyona Shchennikova, Kiya Johnson, LSU, 9.85; 12. Haleigh Bryant, LSU, 9.775.

Presence: 9,682

If there was ever a time when Kiya Johnson’s troubled left Achilles tendon was going to kick, now was the time.

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